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ECP to challenge high court order to appoint more tribunals in Punjab: CEC

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ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will challenge Lahore High Court’s (LHC) order to notify six more election tribunals to hear poll disputes in Punjab, the electoral watchdog’s chief said on Tuesday.

Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja made these remarks on Thursday while hearing a set of applications filed by all three MNAs from Islamabad — belonging to the ruling PML-N — to transfer their cases out of the Islamabad tribunal.

“Why does the law empower the ECP to appoint election tribunals? Is our role that of a mere post office,” the CEC said while referring to the LHC’s verdict to appoint six of its judges to election tribunals.

LHC’s Justice Shahid Karim, who passed the order, also asked the ECP to ensure implementation within one week.

Islamabad MNAs petitions

The CEC headed a four-member bench which heard the appeals filed by Anjum Aqeel Khan, Tariq Fazal Chaudhary and Raja Khurram Nawaz seeking a transfer of their cases to any election tribunal outside of Islamabad.

The counsel for Mr Khan, who won the election from NA-48, read out an order issued by the Islamabad election tribunal, claiming the first verdict, to collect Forms 45 and 47, was given in the absence of the candidate.

According to the lawyer, the tribunal was informed in writing that the ECP had notified the winning candidates.

“Despite that, the election tribunal fixed time-barred petitions for hearing and sent notices to all parties to submit a reply,” he noted.

As per the law, election tribunals, comprising high court judges, are constituted after the final result is notified and losing candidates could file petitions within 45 days after the notification of election results.

The lawyer added the tribunal had even issued notices to the ECP and wondered if it was empowered to do so.

The ECP’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa mem­ber, Ikramullah Khan, also asked if the tribunal could issue directions to the body that created it. In response, the lawyer said the tribunal can’t give directions to the ECP.

The PML-N lawmaker’s counsel said they were given “a last chance” in the absence of any evidence and alleged the tribunal was “not working as per procedure”.

“We fear that the election tribunal will not give us justice,” the lawyer added. He continued that the petitions were to be submitted in the election tribunal latest by April 10, but were submitted on April 15.

He accused the tribunal of not working impartially and accused it of committing “serious mistakes”.

The petitions should have been dismissed for being filed after the 45-day deadline had elapsed, the counsel contended.

The lawyer for Mr Nawaz, the winning candidate from NA-48, also accused the tribunal of violating trial procedures. He claimed that the tribunal acted as the high court itself, for which it had no mandate.

The tribunal was “not conducting a fair trial”, the lawyer argued, adding that the list of witnesses was sought after the framing of issues. He sought the case to be transferred to another tribunal, and if none was available, a fresh one should be constituted.

PML-N MNA Tariq Fazal Chaudhry’s lawyer also expressed no confidence in the tribunal, arguing the entire proceedings of the tribunal were “illegal”. “We are not being given a fair trial, and we don’t expect justice from it,” he said.

The lawyer for PTI-backed candidate Muhammad Ali Bukhari, who was the losing candidate in NA-48, said the tribunal was comprised of a high court judge, and the applicant had alleged bias against the court.

“Applicant Raja Khurram Nawaz has submitted this application to delay the proceedings”, he claimed.

Sajeel Shehryar Swati, the lawyer for PTI-backed candidate Shoaib Shaheen, cited a 2014 verdict of the Supreme Court stating that apparent partiality in court decisions is not bias. He said the Elections Act clearly stated that the tribunal should dispose of election petitions within six months.

During the hearing, Mr Shaheen urged the bench to adjourn the hearing till Monday, as the ECP decision to hear the case had been challenged.

The CEC contended that the bench would halt the hearing if a stay order had been issued.